This year’s Isobel Cup Playoffs promise to be the most entertaining yet.
Five months and 120 games later, we’ve finally reached the end of the PHF season. What a ride it’s been for each of the six Premier Hockey Federation teams who’ve battled just about everything to get to this spot. All season long, we’ve discussed what it takes to be the least team standing come the end of March, and now the time has come to crown a champion. For the sixth time in its history, the Isobel Cup is on the line, and whether these teams are ready or not, the battle begins this weekend. Without further adieu, let’s jump right in and see what each squad is up against, and shed some light on who’s likely to win it all this weekend in Tampa.
Our first matchup of the playoffs features the Buffalo Beauts and Boston Pride. These two sides have had fairly opposite seasons, as Buffalo has just half as many points as Boston. On paper, this looks like easy pickings for the Pride who, if not for the two powerhouses running the PHF, would’ve found themselves with a first-round bye. Forgetting hypotheticals, Boston will have to win three straight to capture their third Isobel Cup.
Buffalo and Boston faced off this past weekend where the Beauts won both games in overtime. Losing in overtime has become quite the trend for the Pride, who have done so in five straight games. That’s not the habit you want to fall into towards the end of the season, and if it’s not fixed quickly, Boston could become a spectator in Tampa all too soon.
The Buffalo Beauts have been confusing to me all season. For the longest time, they were a laughingstock, winning just one game in regulation until February. Then all of a sudden, they started having fun and even knocked off Toronto in their outdoor game on February 21. This brief upturn was quickly followed by more losing until this past weekend flipped the script once again. That inconsistency is cause for concern, and I think concern has been a common theme for the 2021/2022 Beauts. They’ll need goaltender Carly Jackson to get hot and stay hot due to their lack of offensive firepower. Jackson has shown the ability to take over games single-handedly, and she’ll likely need to do it again come Saturday.
Boston has been bit by the inconsistency bug this season as well, but has kept their team on stable ground after times of uncertainty. It doesn’t hurt to have the league’s top goalie behind your defense. Katie Burt has a .958 save percentage and has shown she can play on back-to-back days no problem. In early March, Burt posted consecutive shutouts which shows me she’s ready to possibly play three games in as many days this weekend. By the looks of it, Boston should control this game and if they have it their way, they’ll get a nice confidence boost heading into round two.
Back to the trend of teams matching up in the playoffs after they just played each other, Minnesota and Metropolitan are set for a 4/5 game that looks to be closely contested. I see a lot of similarities in the Whitecaps and Riveters, which caused each to be stuck in the middle in the PHF this season. The largest factor for both squads has been their inability to sweep an opponent. All year long, it seemed that both the Rivs and Whitecaps would split weekends with whomever they played, no matter the strength of the opponent. But good news for them: you only have to win one to move on to the playoffs.
Lost in the shuffle of this season is the quality year goaltender Amanda Leveille is having for the Whitecaps. She’s been out since mid February with an undisclosed injury but has posted an impressive .937 save percentage, and that’s the kind of solid backstopping you need in the playoffs. It’s a shame she’s been overshadowed by Boston’s Katie Burt and Toronto’s Elaine Chuli, but without Leveille, Minnesota could be even lower in the standings. For Minnesota’s sake, Leveille needs to get healthy enough to play this weekend; she could propel them even further into the playoffs if she does.
Similarly, Rebecca Russo is having a career year for the Riveters. Russo has tied her career high in points (17) and has a shot to set a new individual record this weekend. Her consistent offensive output has provided secondary scoring for Metropolitan through their difficult season. Metropolitan is a team that’s used to being near the top of the league standings, but even in a tough season like this they’re finding out that Russo can produce year after year.
Not to startle anyone, but these two sides split their most recent games in mid March, and they also split their only other series in February. I guess you could say this looks like a coin flip, and your guess is as good as mine as to who will win. If I had to pick, I’d say the offensive firepower of Minnesota gives them a better shot to move on to Sunday’s games.
The Top Two
Some quick notes for the two teams awaiting their opponents for round two: The Connecticut Whale beat the Toronto Six 5–0 on Sunday to capture first place and the first seed for the Isobel Cup Playoffs. In doing so, Kennedy Marchment also earned the league’s scoring title over Mikyla Grant-Mentis. Everything’s looking up for the Whale, who’ve gone from worst to first in consecutive seasons. It’s a remarkable turnaround, but their Cinderella season is not yet complete—Connecticut must remain composed if they want to take care of business this weekend. The Whale are on the hunt for their first ever Isobel Cup and are in great position to get it.
Toronto has to feel a bit of a sting after having first place ripped from their hands so late. The Six held the top spot all year long only to be second best heading into this tournament. I have no doubt All-Star captain Shiann Darkangelo and company will be ready to prove that they’re still the team to beat. Toronto has been so complete all season and for the first time last Sunday, they got solidly thumped. For their sake, I hope it’s a wake-up call to prepare for the playoffs.
No matter what happens this weekend, I’m sure the Isobel Cup Playoffs will be a real treat to enjoy. Whether you’re there in person in Tampa or watching around North America, make sure to appreciate the high-level hockey taking place before your eyes. I hope you’re as pumped as I am; It’s March and the Isobel Cup is up for grabs—what could be better?